The Curious Tarot Deck by Michelle Cohen Review by Arnell Ando
I just got a wicked COOL deck called the Curious Tarot. I was so blown away by this unusual art deck that I had to let my other work slide while I share my enthusiasm. First of all, I was quite impressed with the presentation and packaging. The deck comes in a sleek, black wooden box that brings to mind Asian lacquer…very classy. The colorful Curious Tarot trademark sits in the center of all this darkness and draws the eye in. As I open the box, a Tarot bag in shimmery, deep red translucent fabric teases with just a hint of the top card peeking through. The artist, Michelle Cohen has a great sense of drama and aesthetic arousal. Curious Tarot indeed…this is one of the most unusual decks I’ve ever seen and I’m one that’s always on the lookout for unique Tarot decks so that’s saying something!
This deck is also unusual in that it has the 22 Major Arcana and 16 Court Cards but no Pips. The Court cards are traditionally named: Page, Knight, Queen and King with familiar suits of Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles. The Majors have traditional names as well (card II is High Priestess and V is High Priest and the Justice and Strength are cards VIII and XI respectively). But that’s where the traditional depiction ends, but more on the art itself a little later. Continuing with my discussion of presentation, I must share that I was also very impressed with the quality of the cards themselves. Michelle has taken hand-producing cards to another level. Having made my share of laminated, handmade decks, painstakingly laboring over each card, I am quite in awe of Michelle’s technique and am considering changing my method for future projects. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have seen or obtained any of Frank Jensen’s wonderful Mail Art decks, you’ve got an idea of the process used by Michelle, although where Frank’s card backs tend to be one solid color, Michelle has her colorful logo featured on the backs of hers. The card stock is nice and sturdy with a soft sheen to it. Michelle explains that the backs and fronts are color copied onto card stock and glued together, and the corners are rounded, with one of the final touches being a few coats of protective finishing spray. The fronts have a black background with a lovely dark red patterned border.
Now a bit about the art on the cards themselves. It’s difficult to come up with the right adjective to describe this deck but it’s very surreal, in the sense that it’s abstract and yet familiar to one’s wild imagination at the same time. The imagery is quite bizarre while also rekindling some memories of childhood imagination and that skewed perception of reality. Did you ever have one of those books when you were a kid that was cut into three sections and you could play with mixing and matching body parts and costumes? Well, put a Tarot spin on this concept and a keen eye for the strangely sublime and you’ve got some idea of this deck!
I’m going to share some of my favorites with you, (the cards I most relate and connect with in this deck) starting off with the Fool card. I love this image of the Fool dressed in vest and Scottish tartan (or is that a Catholic school skirt?) dancing wildly, despite the big fat head perched on this otherwise nimble figure. Class clown comes to mind but I wonder why the expression on the mask looks so worried or frightened? The Empress card depicts a bride with bouquet in hand standing on a nest of eggs. It’s an interesting twist and fits the Empress archetype for me. The Lovers card evokes feelings of childhood crushes with the opposite sex and these two characters couldn’t be more ‘opposite’ and yet there is an innocent intimacy conveyed in this image.
The Chariot has the body of an older gentleman, seated in a rickety chair with hands resting on a crutch and yet his youthful face makes me think that he is actively reliving stories of younger days to a captive audience. This is a new view of the Chariot card for me, but it works. The Death card is pretty spooky and 'alien' looking and I think it darkly depicts the fear of the unknown. I’ve scanned the Strength and Devil cards for comparison because for me they somehow go together. Strength looks to me like the archetypal Mother from the 50’s, standing tall with hands firmly on hips. She is powerful and not about to back down to the demands of a child. And the Devil looks like Father from the same era, clad in a plaid bathrobe and sandals with glasses held dramatically in hand as he makes his point. Angry and explosive, he yells with red eyes bulging and fangs protruding from his twisted, ugly scowl. Thinking back…what was more frightening than Dad when he got really MAD? For me, anyway, a parent’s bad temper was as close to a monster or Devil that I ever experienced as a little kid. A lot of Michelle’s cards just ‘click’ on some unconscious level that is hard to analyze or explain in mere words.
Moving on to happier cards, the Star is utterly joyful. It has this big, round moonish grin and a tanned male body wearing swim trunks. And as he bangs the sand off his shoes you can almost visualize little stars falling… In this deck, the Moon card is male and the Sun card, female. The Sun card has the plump, round figure of a girl wearing a bright yellow bathing suit. But the Asian headdress contradicts this childish playfulness with the graceful wisdom of an ancient god/dess. The Judgment card evokes in me the feeling of being sent to the corner to ‘think about what you just did’ while also wearing a ‘riot shield’ looking mask. I get a sense of one needing a ‘time out’ after loosing control. I adore these images because they toy with my uncensored imagination, while at the same time they are very potent and evocative. The court cards as a whole are just as deliciously deranged. Here are a few of my favorites of the Royal families.
There’s no little booklet at this time although I hear from Michelle Cohen that she has one in the works and that it will be handcrafted as well. I’m looking forward to receiving it and getting some insight from the artist herself about what went through her mind or perhaps some possible associations these images evoked in her during creation. I recommend the Curious Tarot to Tarot art lovers and collectors. This is a limited edition set (deck, booklet, box and bag) of 100 copies only. The signature cards will be hand signed and numbered as well as the box and booklet. The cost is $200. You can order a hand crafted copy of this deck set directly from the artist at her website.
Arnell Ando is the artist and author of Transformational Tarot and the Hero's Journey Tarot. She also illustrated the Storyteller Tarot written by Diane Wilkes. She is a Certified Tarot Grand Master who gives wonderfully inspiring workshops all over the country on creating your own tarot. She has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and is a certified Expressive Arts Therapist.
Images Copyright © Michelle Cohen
Review Copyright © 2001 Arnell Ando
Page Copyright © 2001 Diane Wilkes